Maps maketh the man …

Cost Centre #3’s tone was anxious: “Mum, the GPS has gone down.” He pointed to the screen of the standalone GPS, which was indeed blank, indicating that it had run out of battery. For some reason I had neglected to bring the power lead. “Never mind,” I said. “We will use the map.”

“Map?” squeaked CC#3. It was then I realised that he had been removed from his prep school before they got to the part of the syllabus where they teach you how to use such a thing. Undeterred, I handed him the map and explained that he would actually need to look out of the window, use his observational powers to work out where we were, find it on the map, and finally figure out how to get to our destination. It was clear from his expression that he was rather puzzled by this novel task.

I swing between thinking that they should be teaching them more at school, and feeling bad that I am not teaching them enough at home. How has he got to the age of 12 without learning how to read a map? Obviously, the answer is too much time on computer games.

Perhaps I really should take more interest in my sons’ homework, I thought. So when CC#2, age 16, called up at 11pm one night last week and asked for help with an essay he was writing about different ways of measuring GDP, I took the call, logged on to the internet and coached him down the phone. No matter that I was in a corridor in the Hyatt hotel in Birmingham, at the Liberal Democrat party conference. We discussed the merits of input versus output, and whether Amartya Sen is right to suggest that we should be looking at totally different measures of prosperity. Nor did it seem out of place in that gathering of people with, shall we say, a complex and often conflicting set of political views.

My children may have missed out on map-reading but one thing I do hope I have taught them is to be courteous to others, even when they despise them, because you never know when unpleasant behaviour might come back to haunt you. After I left Birmingham, I travelled on the Eurostar to a meeting in Paris and at St Pancras I spotted someone who had worked in the same bank as me years ago. He never liked me, and made a point of sharing his views with everyone. I had hoped never to see him again in my life, and deftly avoided him at the station.

I assumed that would do the trick, for I had earlier discovered to my horror that I was booked into standard premier class rather than my usual business class, where I assumed he would be seated. But no, it turned out that he was booked into the very next seat to me. How dreadful is that? The train had 18 carriages, each of which has more than 60 seats. So how come he managed to end up next to me? Memo to self, only go business class in future; odds of more than 1,000 to 1 are still not good enough.

Meanwhile, I gritted my teeth and introduced this man to my travelling companion. He looked surprised for a minute, and then worked out who I was. “Mrs Moneypenny,” he said. I do of course have a real name, but this person has never been known to use it, and apparently used to refer to me as “thunder thighs”, so using my pseudonym was a step up, I suppose.

I made a mental note to re-remind the cost centres about the importance of courtesy, though I may have to save my lecture about over-reliance on computer use for another time. After CC#3 had eventually got the hang of the map, we landed safely at Northampton’s Sywell Aerodrome (yes, this map-reading lesson was going on in the air). They have a rather brilliant little museum there, packed full of second world war paraphernalia. CC#3 was tremendously excited to see all the guns in the glass cases. “Test me!” he cried, and without even looking at the labels he reeled off the make and model of almost every gun there. “Where did you learn all this,” I asked? “Computer games,” he said. Drat.

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